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Even in Miami’s Brutal Summer Heat, Restaurants Are Now Embracing Outdoor Dining

Expect expanded outdoor dining options, masks, closed down streets — and chances of rain

It’s official: City of Miami and Miami Beach restaurants have begun to reopen for dine-in service — but with capacity restricted to 50 percent, a laundry list of new mandatory social distancing and hygiene regulations, and the low summer season knocking at their doors, restaurants must find ways to expand seating and lure customers who may still be hesitant to congregate inside.

For many restaurants, that means relying more heavily on outdoor dining — or creating new outdoor seating where there was none before. “The courtyard has always been there and, for some reason, I never thought about asking the landlord to use it,” says Blue Collar chef and owner Daniel Serfer, whose staple American restaurant inside a quaint MiMo motel is too petite to allow for more than two properly distanced tables. “He wants us to succeed so he can get his rent as well,” Serfer says. “So he said, ‘Go for it.’”

For now, Blue Collar’s seating will be exclusively outdoors (diners can still use the restaurant’s indoor restroom provided they wear masks and use hand sanitizer), with its original front patio seating extended into a private gravel courtyard with picnic tables spread out beer garden-style. Plans for shade structures and music are in the works, with the restaurant’s total capacity extended to 44 seats (only 25 indoor seats were available before).

Wynwood hotspot Kyu is likewise looking to extend its outdoor seating from its existing four tables near the front door, which are covered and appropriately distanced. “We are working with the Wynwood BID on being able to temporarily activate the street,” says Kyu VP Lizzy Maynes. “We are still working on the logistics, as the Florida summer weather can be a little challenging, so we are taking it one day at a time.”

What exactly outdoor dining looks like going forward will vary from municipality to municipality, restaurant to restaurant. Here’s what to expect from outdoor dining in Miami, according to current regulations:

Restaurants can apply for permits to temporarily extend their outdoor dining space.

From expanding seating into adjacent sidewalks and parking spaces to implementing full-on road closures, local governments are taking steps to bolster restaurants’ chances of bouncing back as they head into the first phases of reopening.

In Miami Beach, nine blocks of Washington Avenue have been approved for closure, along with select single lanes of traffic, parking lanes and sidewalks on Lincoln Road, Bay Road, Ocean Terrace and others as more restaurants receive permits. Half of Ocean Drive is now closed to traffic, with restaurants free to expand seating into the west sidewalk, parking lane, and southbound traffic lane.

The City of Miami is also working through final details on how to implement the use of on-street parking spots to add outdoor dining space for adjacent restaurants in Wynwood, Downtown and Coconut Grove. According to a representative for the Wynwood BID, diners can expect this program to be implemented in about a week.

Last week, the City of Coral Gables passed a resolution creating a temporarily expedited permit process for expanding outdoor dining opportunities, while other areas like Downtown Dadeland have already increased restaurants’ capacities by allowing outdoor tables to be set up in the center of its planned community.

Parking will be harder to come by, but it may also be cheaper — or even free.

With new provisions in place, some additional outdoor seating will come at the expense of already precious parking spaces. Be prepared to spend more time searching for a spot, or plan to take rideshares if dining out. For those who opt to drive, some neighborhoods are easing up on metered parking as an added incentive for locals. In the City of Miami, drivers can currently take advantage of one free hour of on-street parking courtesy of the Miami Parking Authority. The promotion is only valid once per day and must be initiated through a contactless PayByPhone parking session.

Be prepared to get wet.

Umbrellas and tents are allowed in temporarily permitted outdoor seating areas in the City of Miami, but don’t expect any serious awnings or newly built coverage for protection from the elements, should a bout of tropical weather roll through. Overhead structures that span the sidewalk are currently discouraged, while an existing City of Miami sidewalk permit requirement states that restaurants must remove their outdoor furniture ahead of any incoming inclement weather. The city of Miami Beach originally wasn’t going to allow umbrellas or fans for its new extended outdoor dining, but after much outcry, it updated its guidelines to allow restaurants to utilize cafe umbrellas as long as they are flame-retardant, free-standing, and no larger than 10-feet. Fans, unfortunately, are still not allowed.

Yes, masks are still required outside.

In accordance with County guidelines, unless seated at a table, customers must wear face masks at all times, including outside. That means masks can be off for dining and sitting at the table, but walking to the restroom, waiting to be seated, or anything else that gusts might be doing in the restaurant, a mask is still required.

Bars—even outdoor bars—must not be used as a waiting area.

Absolutely no congregation will be permitted at bars, so don’t plan on grabbing a cocktail and waiting outside for a table. Diners who do arrive early must either wait in their cars or wear their masks while waiting at a distance outside the restaurant.

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